Study highlights support for reallocation of water to Indigenous communities

A world-first study led by a Griffith University researcher has found strong support amongst Australians for the reallocation of water from irrigators to Indigenous communities. 

The study of public attitudes towards water reallocation, was led by Professor Sue Jackson from Griffith’s Australian Rivers Institute. Prof Jackson, who has previously published research on indigenous water rights, worked with economists from the University of Tasmania and University of East Anglia in the UK. 

Of the 2700 respondents located in the Murray Darling Basin region surveyed, 70% said they would back the reallocation of water to Aboriginal communities. 

Respondents were also asked if they were willing to pay more on their annual household water bill to see 5% of irrigation water allocated to Indigenous communities. 

Prof Jackson said she and her colleagues conducted this research because no one has investigated public support for improving access to water for Indigenous people in Australia, or elsewhere in the world. 

“Indigenous Australians have been historically excluded from water rights and now have very little control over water use. This new study showed firm support for redressing that injustice by reallocating water to Indigenous people,” Prof Jackson said.  

“It also showed that around one-fifth of respondents were willing pay to improve the equity of water distributions, while almost a third wanted to see governments buy water for Indigenous communities. 

Associate Prof Darla Hatton MacDonald of the University of Tasmania said: “We estimated that households were willing to pay approximately $22 to see a more equitable distribution of water. If you aggregate that household response to the basin level, we can say that people are willing to pay about $74.5 million to reallocate water to Indigenous communities.” 

“This is almost double what the Federal Government has recently set aside to buy water for Indigenous nations in the Murray Darling basin,” Prof Jackson said. 

“These results can inform water policy, allocation processes and public debate about equity in water rights distributions.” 

Prof Jackson added that “overall levels of support for reallocation in our context suggest that there is a reasonable prospect that a considerable number of Australians would endorse Indigenous advocacy for policy mechanisms to buy and hold water for Indigenous uses, irrespective of the purpose to which such water is directed”. 

The study ‘Public attitudes to inequality in water distribution: Insights from preferences for water reallocation from irrigators to Aboriginal Australians’ has been published in Water Resources Research.  

The authors are Prof Sue Jackson (Griffith University), A/Prof Darla Hatton-Macdonald (University of Tasmania) and Rosalind Bark (University of East Anglia).